Scarinci Hollenbeck: The law firm at the heart of it
The New Jersey Meadowlands spans more than 30 square miles and covers parts of more than 14 municipalities, including a portion of Jersey City, one of the strongest areas of new development in the State. It is there where one New Jersey law firm, Scarinci Hollenbeck, has emerged as the go-to legal adviser for businesses seeking to take advantage of the economic opportunities that the region has to offer.
Across the Meadowlands region, construction is booming. The Jersey Journal recently reported that Jersey City leads the state in residential real estate development. According to the latest U.S. Census data, the city issued permits for 1,286 new units from the start of 2014 through the end of October. Most are multi-family development projects, such as the more than 6,000 residential units that are currently under construction in Journal Square and downtown.
Another Meadowlands municipality—Secaucus—ranked third in new housing starts. As highlighted by NorthJersey.com, its large development projects include a new rental project near the Secaucus Junction train station.
Headquartered in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, Scarinci Hollenbeck has enjoyed front row seats to the Meadowlands’ recent economic and environmental resurgence. The firm has been successful in securing development rights for some of the largest office, retail, industrial and multi-family development and redevelopment projects in the Meadowlands District and throughout the surrounding region.
Scarinci Hollenbeck has played a significant role in the ongoing development renaissance. Among its most recent successes, Scarinci Hollenbeck secured development approvals for the redevelopment of a long vacant industrial site on Coles Street and the redevelopment of the Van Leer Chocolate Factory site on Van Leer Street (see cover page image) for the Hoboken Brownstone Company, two projects that alone will add more than 1,200 new residential units and a new city park to the landscape of Jersey City.
Other significant projects include Koppers Peninsula, the largest and most complex redevelopment project in North Jersey. Spanning 175 acres in the Meadowlands District in South Kearny, Koppers Peninsula includes development of a logistics warehousing center of up to 3.2 million sq. ft.
Also, in Kearny, Scarinci Hollenbeck recently obtained approvals for the development of a regional shopping mall consisting of a Super-Walmart, WaWa gas station and national fast food chain as well as approvals for a large industrial/warehouse complex spanning some 45 acres.
While other law firms are only now looking to become part of the development frenzy, Scarinci Hollenbeck has already successfully built strong and sustaining relationships in the region.
“Because of our 25 year history in the Meadowlands region, we have grown to become intimately aware of every aspect of the Meadowlands’ development process, from the perspectives of developers, business owners and host municipalities alike. We are able to pass that experience on to our clients, across the entire spectrum of industrial, infrastructure, commercial, and multifamily uses,” said Ken Hollenbeck, the firm’s Managing Partner.
Unique opportunities & challenges
Due to its proximity to major transportation infrastructure to New York City and the Port of New York/New Jersey and access to skilled labor pools, the Meadowlands provides significant opportunities for those seeking to grow their businesses.
However, developing property in the Meadowlands also presents unique challenges and issues. Businesses need to assemble a team of professionals, including attorneys, with experience in this unique physical and regulatory environment and with expertise in the diverse areas of practice necessary to navigate its environment.
According to partner, Donald Scarinci, who recently ranked number nine on PolitickerNJ’s top 100 power list, the firm’s lawyers rely on their experience working in the Meadowlands to anticipate challenges in the development process and to resolve them before they become roadblocks. “
When clients reach out to us regarding a legal issue impacting their Meadowlands development project, chances are we have confronted the issue before,” Scarinci said. “More importantly, we have an attorney who knows just how to resolve it.”
Securing land use approvals
Purchasing property in the Meadowlands comes with certain risks and, therefore, requires comprehensive due diligence to assess potential planning, environmental and regulatory issues.
As Scarinci highlights, developers exploring the Meadowlands for the first time may not be aware, at the outset, that land development is not regulated the same way as it is regulated in most of the rest of New Jersey. The Municipal Land Use Law (MLUC), with all of its procedural and substantive requirements administered by municipal staff and volunteer land use boards, does not apply either at all or in part in the fourteen Meadowlands’ municipalities.
By statute, municipal zoning and land development authority has been transferred to the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC).
The NJMC operates under its own statutory and regulatory authority, using procedures and application review criteria than in many cases are different than those employed by municipalities under the MLUC. For example, at the NJMC, the role of local land use boards is assumed by its professional staff of engineers and planners, who apply substantive standards adopted specifically for projects in the Meadowlands.
Scarinci Hollenbeck regularly negotiates redevelopment plans and agreements with Meadowlands municipalities and also helps clients obtain any necessary variances, zoning certificates, and other land use approvals from the NJMC.
“Developers who retain attorneys and engineers that are familiar with these unique procedures and standards are likely to save time and money in securing approvals for their projects,” noted Hollenbeck.
While the municipalities that comprise the Meadowlands are eager to foster redevelopment, projects also must co-exist with the region’s environmentally sensitive priorities. Many properties include regulated wetlands and/or are located in regulated flood hazard areas, along waterways or on lands formerly passed over by tidal waters. Each of these elements requires sophisticated environmental permitting work.
Businesses also often have to contend with the Meadowlands’ not so distant past as New Jersey’s favorite dumping ground. As such, many development sites bear the legacy of environmental contamination from either historic industrial operations or landfilling.
Others, where the original development was upon fill, have significant geotechnical issues, requiring construction with pilings or other structural supports.
Scarinci Hollenbeck guides businesses through the daunting process of obtaining permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for development in wetlands, flood hazard areas and along waterways. It also obtains licenses and grants from the State for lands formerly flowed by tidal waters.
“Developers in many areas in New Jersey are faced with environmental contamination, geotechnical issues, or the need for water-oriented environmental permitting. But the fact is that in the Meadowlands, potential developers may be faced with all of these issues. The need to complete their projects in an acceptable timeframe and at reasonable expense, demands that they rely upon professionals who can bring all of the skills necessary to address these complex and diverse issues to the table,” explained Ted Schwartz, a leading member of the firm’s Environmental and Land Use Group and one of New Jersey’s original and most well regarded practitioners of environmental law.
“With this end in mind, our developer clients engage our firm with the expectation that we can coordinate and manage technical consultants and environmental regulatory obligations—from the planning and development stages, to site remediation and compliance, to post-development,” Schwartz added.
Commercial real estate and leasing
While securing development approvals often takes center stage in the Meadowlands, it is only half of the battle. As highlighted by the delays that have plagued the American Dream Project, businesses can only realize a return on their investment once the project is up and running. Funding shortfalls, contract disputes and regulatory delay can all compromise the viability of a project.
“Without the right team in place, many development projects become mired in costly and time-consuming delays,” noted Scarinci, “And having several different law firms involved often only compounds the problem. Our attorneys advise businesses developing in the Meadowlands from start to finish. Whether that means securing financing, negotiating leases for a retail shopping center or a project labor agreement or drafting condominium documents, Scarinci Hollenbeck has the attorney for the job.”
For big-box retailers, the man for the job is Donald M. Pepe, a partner in the firm’s Commercial Real Estate Practice Group. Prior to joining Scarinci Hollenbeck, Pepe served as general counsel for one of the country’s largest residential real estate developers, which gave him a unique perspective on nearly every aspect of the development process.
“I understand the concerns of business executives and in-house counsel, including time constraints and budgetary challenges,” Pepe said. “My job is to make them feel comfortable turning the day-to-day project management over to us, so that they can continue to focus on growing their business.”
In addition to being the firm’s resident partner at its Jersey City office and a key figure in the Koppers Peninsula and Jersey City projects, Pepe has represented a national big-box retailer for the past ten years, handling all of the company’s transactional real estate matters in three states, as well as spearheading development approvals for the rapid expansion of a regional convenience store and service center company.
Once projects are off the ground, the Scarinci Hollenbeck team also works with businesses to secure tenants. The Meadowlands leasing market is one of the strongest in the state, largely thanks to its proximity to New York City. However, the impact of the financial crisis can still be felt here as elsewhere.
According to NAI Hanson’s 2014 Summer Meadowlands Market Report, 7.5 million square feet was available for lease in the Meadowlands at the close of the second quarter, representing an 8.2 percent vacancy rate.
With development increasing and current space turning over, competition for tenants is still fierce and negotiations often involve more than cost.
“Much of your negotiating power is dictated by the rental market conditions in the area,” said Victor Kinon, who chairs the firm’s Commercial Real Estate Practice Group. “We use our in-depth understanding of the Meadowlands to the advantage of our clients.”
Make it Happen
Scarinci Hollenbeck has endeared itself to its clients by solving their legal problems both efficiently and economically. While other law firms in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area have raised rates in the wake of the economic downturn, Scarinci Hollenbeck has only expanded its services. The firm now employs more than 50 attorneys and also has offices in Ocean Township, Jersey City, New York City and Washington, D.C.
Scarinci Hollenbeck is the only law firm a client will need once they have selected the Meadowlands Region for their business or development projects. That is why many New York and New Jersey businesses turn to Scarinci Hollenbeck for its regional insight and proven ability to usher their projects through to the finish line.
Proven leadership, a comprehensive vision and a keen appreciation for what makes both New Jersey and the Meadowlands tick have distinguished Scarinci Hollenbeck as the best of the best.